El Buen Pastor Latino Community Services
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
LEARNING LANGUAGE PARTNERS
Mastering a new language as an adult is a monumental task. There is no path to fluency that doesn’t involve endless hours of repetitive practice, as English-learner Luis Bello and Spanish student Jean Sohmer can testify. Although you wouldn’t know it to look at them, Luis and Jean have much in common. Both grew up in “the sticks”—Jean in Franklinville in eastern North Carolina, and Luis in a tiny village in Oaxaca, Mexico. Both have too much time on their hands because of unwelcome circumstances—Luis’ weekly chemotherapy keeps him from employment, and Jean became a widow three years ago. Both fill their days by volunteering at El Buen Pastor for 15 or 20 hours a week—Luis works on grounds and building upkeep and helps with the tutoring program, while Jean leads adult activities in the parent-child program and helps with preschool.
This spring they are helping each other learn a new language, scheduling sessions around their volunteer duties and Luis’ treatments. They take turns reading aloud, patiently giving and receiving coaching on pronunciation. Vowel sounds are the most difficult for each of them, especially the “a” and “e” sounds, which are flipped for the two languages. Luis and Jean appreciate the lack of pressure and the freedom to make mistakes in their shared learning experience. Only a couple of times have they gotten completely stuck in their conversation, one not being able to understand what the other was talking about, and they resolved those stalemates with an on-line translation tool.Like iron sharpening iron, practicing with a friend in a safe place has given them the confidence to try their second language with others.
A TIME TO LEARN
Mariela, who came to the US from Mexico at the age of 14, delivered this speech in both Spanish and English when she graduated from an English as a Second Language program in June. Anyone who has struggled to learn a new language can understand the difficult task she and her classmates faced. Anyone who has raised teenagers (or has been one!) can imagine the self-discipline Mariela has had to muster in order to face her school days.
Good afternoon my name is Mariela. First of all my classmates and I would like to thank you for joining us this afternoon. As we all know today we take another step in our lives after spending a year in the ESL program to learn a new language and although not everybody did it with pleasure, we did it for a better future, always fighting not wanting to wake up early in the mornings, not wanting to be in school, finally making excuses. We thank God for giving us parents who give us the opportunity to study to improve. Classmates you should take this opportunity to study and work harder and we are sure that this is for our benefit. Also we thank our teachers for the affection and support they have given us, the comprehension, and for helping us with the English which is a difficult language to learn.
STAFF SPOTLIGHT: FRANCIA CACCHIONE
When Cathie Heck began working with second graders in the LCS tutoring program in 2006, she was particularly worried about Daniela. Although Dani seemed to be bright, she had no interest in reading or homework, preferring to draw, daydream, or go to the water fountain…ANYthing but focus on her studies. Having pretended to be a cat for most of the first grade, Dani had a great imagination, but was working well-below grade level, and Cathie was concerned for her future. Her teachers at Old Town Elementary were concerned about Dani’s low performance and immaturity, too, and when she had not mastered reading by the end of the third grade, she was held back to repeat the grade. Cathie was determined that Dani would progress: “It was a huge task to get her to put effort into reading. First I tried encouragement and positive reinforcement, and then I moved on to positive harassment.” Thinking back on that time, Dani said, “When I was younger, writing was really hard for me too. In the summer Ms. Cathie gave me a notebook and every day we worked on writing.
Fast forward to 2011…Dani is an honor student in the fifth grade, and her third quarter report card included an A in writing! She was selected for the Human Relations award at her school, and just completed her sixth 5K race with the El Buen Pastor/Old Town School chapter of Girls on the Run. Dani sings in choruses at school and church, and LOVES TO READ!
Cathie’s struggle to help Dani has impacted her own life journey, as she is now enrolled in the Master of Education program at UNC-G, studying Curriculum and English as a Second Language. A former college instructor with a Master’s in English Rhetoric, Cathie realizes that learning to read English is an enormous challenge for children whose parents speak Spanish and received minimal schooling themselves, and she wants to do all she can to help such children meet the challenge.
Cathie and Daniela aren’t the only ones who have changed in the past five years—Cathie says that Dani’s mother’s involvement was critical to her daughter’s transformation. Through her participation in LCS parenting classes Aure learned how to play a supporting role in Dani’s academics and a leading role in her character development. According to Dani, “My mom makes me be good. She disciplined me when I was younger, but now she doesn’t have to.” When asked what is most difficult about “being good,” Dani didn’t hesitate with her reply. “When people disrespect you it is hard to not show disrespect back. But if you respect them, they will respect you one day.”